Friday, 24 May 2019

Douglas Finn: Tragic Therapy in Augustine's Confessions

I propose to investigate the connection between Augustine’s discussion of tragic theater in conf.3 and depictions of grief in conf.4 and 9. Recent work on Augustine’s “tragic vision,” by, e.g., Remy and Blowers, has shown how Augustine, perhaps paradoxically, retains an appreciation of the tragic while simultaneously transcending classical tragedy’s fatalism through faith in divine providence and grace. I augment this scholarship by considering how Augustine practically affirms and surmounts the tragic worldview through his literary depictions of grief. These portrayals serve a therapeutic purpose for Augustine’s readers. Comparing Augustine’s account of tragedy with that of Aristotle—aided by the work of Konstan on ancient Greek emotions—we see how Augustine reconceptualizes grief as an action-ready emotion that ought to inspire merciful action toward others. In the riveting portraits of grief in conf.4 and 9, we then witness how Augustine elicits and heals his readers’ emotions, orienting them away from a self-serving pleasure at the suffering of others toward the formation of a community of mercy. Augustine deftly crafts his accounts of grief: in conf.4, he compels the reader, who “watches” Augustine errantly suffer, to face his own soul's affective disorder. Next, in conf.9, Augustine presents an account of Christian grief. The reader again “watches” Augustine grieve, this time over the death of his beloved mother. Augustine again elicits the readers’ emotions, including a proud disdain toward the weeping Augustine, and replaces those selfish feelings with mercy via a dialogical incorporation into the Eucharistic sacrifice.

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